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Black and minority ethnic NHS staff more likely to be bullied by patients and staff

by Beth Gault
21 March 2024

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NHS staff who are black or minority ethnic (BME) face more harassment, bullying and abuse by patients, family, the public and other staff members, according to latest NHS England figures.

Around 30% of BME staff were harassed, bullied or abused by patients, family or the public in 2022, compared with 26.8% of white staff. In the same year, 27% of BME staff experienced the same from colleagues, compared with 22% of white staff.

The figures have been released as part of the NHS workforce race equality standard 2023, which looks at how trusts are addressing race and inequalities.

NHS England said there was ‘continued evidence’ of ‘sustained improvement’ in diversity and inclusion since 2016 when the first report was published, with the total number of BME staff at very senior manager level up 61.7% between 2018 and 2023 (a rise from 201 to 325 – the highest on record).  

However, it added there was still work to be done. Although the percentage of BME board members increased in all seven ICS areas of England, in London, the Midlands, North East and Yorkshire, North West and South West, the gap in representation between board and workforce widened because the increase in BME representation was slower than the growth in the wider workforce.

The NHS workforce disability equality standard report 2023 was also published this week, which found that disability declaration rates by NHS staff had improved in 2023 by 19.9%. But, 33.2% of disabled staff reported experiences of bullying, harassment or abuse from patients, service users or the public, 16.1% reported this from managers, and 24.8% from colleagues.

Dr Navina Evans, NHS England chief workforce officer, said: ‘There are some positive improvements in this year’s WRES and WDES data, including a higher number of people in senior positions in the NHS being filled by people of ethnic minority backgrounds and disabled colleagues.

‘But we know there is more to do, and with the NHS workforce more diverse than at any point in its history progress is particularly critical’.

Deputy chief executive at NHS Providers, Saffron Cordery, said: ‘Trust leaders remain dedicated to improving working conditions for ethnic minority and disabled staff, but substantial challenges persist, including in relation to supporting career progression and tackling harassment, bullying and abuse.

While ethnic diversity in the NHS workforce has increased, the speed at which this is happening at board level, particularly among executives, is not keeping pace with overall diversity of the workforce. This has led to a stark disparity in board representation.’

She added: ‘These report findings, along with the latest NHS staff survey showing ethnic minority and disabled staff are more likely to experience abuse from patients and the public, underline the need for urgent action to ensure staff feel safe.’

In November, an MDDUS survey of around 2,000 doctors revealed that more than half of International Medical Graduates (IMGs) experience everyday instances of racism at work.

A version of this story was first published in our sister title Healthcare Leader